When my clients are looking to invest in a quality camera, they often ask me for suggestions. Most of the time they are looking for a light-weight camera that will help them capture their kids moving quickly at sports events and dance recitals, or to capture the amazing vacation sights they’ll be seeing over the summer. But also those moments of blowing out birthday candles and cuddling on the sofa reading books on a rainy day.
Parents usually want a camera that they can use on automatic that will get them better photos than what they might be getting with their phone cameras. They want something reasonably priced for their budget, and they are often ready to make an investment because of the importance of capturing nice photos of their family life, photos that will become their memories over time.
First, a word on phone cameras. They keep getting more and more impressive. I finally upgraded from my five-year-old iPhone 5S to the latest iPhone X, and I’m over the moon about its “portrait” mode. It looks like I shot with a 70-200mm lens at a shallow aperture on my fancy-pants work camera. You can also get this look on the iPhone 7plus and 8 plus, and Android cameras like the Google Pixel.
Sometimes it comes down to the fact that the best camera you have is simply the one you’ve got with you, which is usually your phone camera. If you have learned all the tips and tricks for your camera, like these for iPhone, then you can get a lot of consistently great shots.
However, there are some things you can’t quite achieve in some situations. You might be on vacation wanting to zoom in on the ornate towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, or your kid is performing in a marching band competition on a giant football field and you’re pretty far up in the stands.
Of course, you can get lenses for your phone camera, and these are a few to consider for iPhone and for Android phones. I personally like having a very protective case on my phone which often doesn’t work well with these phone lens systems. I’ve tried a few of them on different phones over the years. Plus, phone batteries drain faster when shooting lots of photos.
Other considerations for using your iPhone as your sole camera may be that you don’t have a lot of space on your phone to hold all the photos you’ll want to take, maybe you need to use your phone for something else at a particular time (like an actual telephone), or maybe you are simply hoping to print something to a crisp enlargement for your wall.
Whatever the reason, in many circumstances, parents will appreciate having something a bit more substantial. Something with dedicated memory cards as well as (the very important nowadays) wifi capability. Something that can “shoot wide” to capture the whole gorgeous landscape in front of you, but that can also zoom in to see the amazing details that you can’t see with your naked eye.
Something with a built in flash, or option for an add-on flash, for the times when you need light to come from the direction that your kids are facing and you can’t move them or the sun.
Many parents first think about getting a DSLR. A “digital single lens reflex” as perfectly described by Digital Trends is a “camera with a mirror inside that reflects the light coming from the lens and sends it through a prism (in higher-end DSLRs) or a series of mirrors (usually in lower-end models) and finally to the optical viewfinder where you can view in real time right in front of you the shot you’d like to capture.” Before digital times, the image was captured to film, which was simply an SLR.
I wholly endorse anyone wanting to get a DSLR to take their photography skills to a new level, but many parents don’t have that extra time in their already very busy lives to learn how to utilize the camera to its full ability.
Or if they do have the time, they are often frustrated later about how bulky and heavy the camera can be to carry around all day on a trip, especially if their bag is already full of snacks, extra layers for weather, sun lotion, and the toys their kids just couldn’t leave the house without and promised to carry themselves.
Instead of a DSLR, I encourage parents to consider a mirrorless camera system which is becoming increasingly popular, even among professionals for their client work, or to consider a really nice point and shoot with an awesome optical zoom lens.
After walking around European cities with my pro-level DSLR and a 50mm lens (my smallest one), it felt like I had carried a few stone bricks by the end of the day. If I wanted to zoom in on details, I’d have had to bring along an even heavier, bulkier lens in addition.
It’s basically overkill. You also look more conspicuous with the larger cameras and lenses, and frankly, when I’m traveling to new places, I don’t want to stand out too much with expensive looking equipment. This makes a good point for changing your neck strap to not be advertising what you’re specifically shooting with.
After exactly this scenario back in 2009 while exploring Madrid and Paris, I eagerly checked out the the Olympus and Panasonic Lumix “micro four thirds” cameras introduced around then. These mirrorless cameras basically have the same capabilities as the DSLRs but for 1/2 to 1/3 the size (although some of them have gotten a bit larger over the past few years).
They are not necessarily cheaper than getting an intro-level DSLR like the Canon Rebel, but they can be well worth the price when weight and size becomes a big consideration to you. Check out this photo of my Canon 5D Mark III workhorse (left) next to my Lumix GF1 (right).
What a difference in size! Not to mention weight. They each have a lens on with around the same focal length: 50mm f/1.2 on the Canon and 20mm f1.7 on the Lumix which is actually more like a 40mm if it were a full frame camera like the Canon. That may sound like mumbo jumbo right now so just trust me that they are comparable focal lengths in real life. Which one would you rather be carrying around for days in a row? Or even just for a family get-together, or your kid’s soccer game?
POINT AND SHOOT CAMERAS
If a mirrorless camera is not quite in your budget, or if you don’t want to be switching lenses (especially if you will be at the beach or in wet, windy conditions), then consider something that still packs a lot of punch like this all-in-one point and shoot Canon PowerShot SX730 HS.
And you can check out a list like this one for other comparable suggestions.
You may have noticed that I have referred to Canon a few times. Mainly, this is because that is what I shoot with and am most familiar with. Nikon has just as great DSLR cameras and lenses. Both Nikon and Canon are just getting into the mirrorless game, though.
Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic have been the heavy contenders in that area. While Canon seems to have quite a few great point and shoot options like the PowerShot mentioned above, Nikon’s Coolpix doesn’t seem to make many “best of” lists.
Speaking of best-of-lists to check out for further mirrorless options, this one has some great suggestions for bodies under $700.
A QUICK WORD ON LENSES
This is a super important tip, worth bolding: aim to spend as much or more on your lens as on your body. A great lens can get you more creative, higher-quality images. Ditch the “kit lens” as soon as you can to take your photography to the next level. Lens choice is a whole other subject so let’s stay focused (pun intended) on overall cameras for now.
MY MIRRORLESS CAMERA OF CHOICE FOR NOW
Personally, for a mirrorless camera, I’m wanting to upgrade my 8 year old Panasonic Lumix GF1. I’m considering the more recent GX8 (from 2015), which isn’t on that “best of” list above because it’s a few years old, but many new cameras are manufactured every year that are often as good as the new ones coming out the next year. A high quality camera is one you can have for years.
My GF1 still takes decent photos, but it doesn’t always make the best choices on automatic mode, and I’m now interested in a camera with wifi capabilities, a better lcd back screen, higher ISO options, and a bigger, better sensor for better printed photos. I’m also considering the GX9 (new this year in 2018), but it wasn’t yet available as an option to rent from BorrowLenses.com last week. Before investing $800 in a new body, I want to be sure it will be worth my investment so I rented the GX8 to try out first hand.
I’m only going to upgrade to a new body, though – I can still use my beloved 50mm “pancake” lens, and my 35-150 zoom lens (which is the equivalent of a 70-280 on a full frame DSLR like my work camera). I used both of these lenses extensively on a trip in 2011 to Israel, Jordan and Turkey where I took full advantage of the almost 300mm zoom on the Lumix. Check out these helpful photos of different focal lengths on Nikon’s site to better understand the difference between them.
I also used Camera Decision to help me compare the Lumix GX8 (and also the newer GX9) to both my GF1 and to other new mirrorless cameras of the past couple of years. It still ranks well overall for the hundreds of cameras available to purchase. I recommend sites like this to help you make your final decision. The professional reviews and testing along with the list of pros and cons of each camera are super insightful.
DON’T WORRY, BE SNAPPY
For any parents reading this who already have invested in a DSLR, keep using it! See what you like and don’t like about it. Maybe you bought one of the relatively light Canon Rebel DSLRs (which is what I’d been recommending before my own experience with a mirrorless system), and you’re happy with it. That’s great! There’s no reason to switch your camera unless you discover over time that it’s NOT the right camera for your needs.
If you don’t have a great lens on your DSLR yet, consider that the next step. I have some strong recommendations on lenses so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for those.
This article is aimed toward the parents who don’t have a higher quality camera yet and are just using their phones. Or for parents who have had their DSLR for a while and perhaps are annoyed by the weight and size of it compared to newer, smaller cameras that can get the job done just as well.
Regardless, once you get your new camera (or if you want to learn to use your current one better) get in touch to schedule a camera learning session with me! I’d love to help you capture snappier snapshots with your new favorite toy.
Suggested features to look for in a new camera:
1) Light-weight – it’s not going to give you an arm cramp by the end of the day
2) Versatile – it can photograph in bright sunlight or in the evening dusk (a great range of ISO), and it can capture a wide landscape or zoom in on details (a great range of focal length)
3) Beginner to advanced settings – It’s easy to pick up and start using from the get-go but with the ability to choose more creative settings the more you start to understand photography concepts more.
4) Wifi capable – It’s easy to upload images to social media without having to download to a computer first.
5) Affordable – A relative term but let’s say something in the range of $500-1500 that you can count on having for the next 5 years which would include the body AND a nice lens. This camera can be a stepping stone to an even better camera down the road.
6) Built in flash – When you want supplemental light because the available light is not enough and/or not very good.
Features you don’t have to worry about as a beginner who is learning more advanced photography:
1) HDR (high dynamic range) – whichever camera you choose will have enough HDR to fit your needs as a beginner. Once you start to become more aware of this concept when looking at your final images, then you can start to explore it more.
2) A huge sensor or a full frame camera – bigger is not better in all cases
3) Megapixels – don’t fall for the megapixel myth
4) Having tons of lenses – one to two really good ones will do the job
List of links used in this article for quick reference:
And don’t forget I’m here for other professional portrait needs as well! jookie is a children’s, family, baby and pet photography studio located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, created in 2006 by me, Jill Liebhaber, veteran Chicago kids and family photographer of 17 years, focused on creating custom art work for homes.
As a professional photography studio in Chicago, jookie serves nearby neighborhoods of Lakeview, Bucktown, Ravenswood, Andersonville, Edgewater, Lincoln Park, West Loop, River North, Old Town, Gold Coast, and Downtown. I also have families who come to me for baby, kid, dog, and family photos from the suburbs like LaGrange, Hinsdale, Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka, Elmhurst, Oak Park, and also out of state like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and California.
I am often asked by jookie parents to create head shots or professional portraits. If I have time to fit it into my schedule, I will!
Gift certificates are available and make a fantastic gift for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, anniversaries, and birthdays. They can be for portrait sessions or for camera learning sessions.
jookie specializes in silly serious LOVE ™.
jookie, a portrait boutique, inc. 4656 N. Rockwell Street Chicago, IL 60625